Teens sought for Westport Police-Youth Club
WESTPORT — The town’s Youth Services Department and Westport police are looking for roughly a dozen eighth- and ninth-graders to take part in the second year of the Police-Youth Club.
“It’s an opportunity to bring police and youth together in a nonenforcement capacity. The kids are free to ask questions of the police, and the police can ask kids questions about what the perception of the police is in town,” said Youth Services Program Director Kevin Godburn. “The goal is to build that relationship.”
The club will have seven or eight monthly meetings beginning in October. In addition to the new participants being sought, Godburn said last year’s participants, now ninth- and 10th-graders, have been invited back.
Meetings vary in their content.
According to Godburn, last year’s club meetings included presentations from the regional SWAT team and from Westport’s K9 unit. Others consisted of dialogue around a topic of the students’ choosing.
“At the first meeting or two, we’ll talk with them and kind of brainstorm. We get to know the kids, get to know what they’re interested in and go from there,” Godburn said.
For more information or to sign up for the Police-Youth Club, visit the town’s site for a permission slip.
Last year, Godburn was encouraged by the rapport that seemed to develop between the police and participants over the course of the club.
“We had a mix of students, some that were interested in law enforcement as careers, others just thought it sounded like a good program,” Godburn said.
“It was nice to see them progress from some hesitation at the beginning to starting to know the officers better and have that jovial interaction at meetings.”
According to Officer Edward Batlin, who helps run the program with Sgt. Sereniti Dobson, it’s not uncommon for students to leave a meeting remarking how cool the officers are.
“It gives them a better understanding of us, gives us a better understanding of them,” Batlin said. “It’s about breaking down barriers.”
This year, Godburn said, he again hopes to have one team-building trip and one community service project. Last year, the police and students completed a rope course at the Adventure Park in Bridgeport. This year, Godburn said the group will likely go for a bowling trip to Bowlmor in Norwalk.
The club is one of several partnerships between Youth Services and police in recent years. Notably, the two entities have teamed up on Dodge-a-Cop, an annual dodgeball tournament in which police and youth compete on the same teams and against each other.
“We want the police and youths on the same team. Doing little things like this helps bring the groups together and really have them interact and get to know one another,” Godburn said.